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14 April 2006

The Tale of Black Beauty: Or, Why The Consort Mocked Three of Four's Suggestion

Once upon a time (about 3 years ago), picking videos to watch as a family was going through a rough patch. Impera was ready for some more character-driven full-length movies, but Trixie was still happiest with a short feature (those 1970s era Snoopy TV specials were her favorite). So we started a rotation. Impera would pick what to watch one week, Trixie the next. When Impera picked, Trixie would invariably wander off halfway through the movie and play quietly with her Little People (playmobile). When Trixie picked, Impera would watch, but not get much pleasure out of it.

Then, a day finally came when, for some reason or another, neither girl could go with her father to the video store, so he went alone. He comes back with Black Beauty. “It’s got animals—Trixie loves animals!” he thought. “And it is a real genuine movie, so Impera will love it as well!”

We sit down to watch it. First, we get to know the characters. Isn’t it sweet—Black Beauty is born to such a happy family. La la la! And he’s got friends: the stable boy, a little pony, the goose, the dog; and the children so love their horse! But then—the boy gets sick. His family doesn’t know what to do! They have to move away from England. Everyone is sad, and Black Beauty gets sold to a hoity-toity family. Trixie gets silent. It is clear that the lady of the house keeps the carriage horses’ leads too tight, just to “look better.” But BB makes a friend: Ginger. Ah! She is the love of his life, even though she is not the most trusting of horses.

Then the evil son of the family races Ginger too hard: he breaks her. Trixie is tense. Bad, bad man. More happenstance, and now BB finds himself alone in London, as a cab horse. Life is hard, but the cabbie, although often sick, is a kind man. And so is his family. Trixie relaxes. BB even glimpses Ginger! She is a cab horse, too. She is unhappy, but we all know BB can raise her spirits (maybe BB’s owner may even buy Ginger one day and they’ll all live happily ever after). But then—O! Fickle fate! Ginger is seen, dead, carried away to the glue factory.

At this point in the movie, we have to pause it. Trixie is sobbing, Impera, who has been silent the entire time, has weepy eyes. This is not turning out to be a good movie for anyone. “Things get better!” soothes the Consort. “Your aunt loved this book when she was young!” (And now this aunt owns a stable and teaches dressage, so you can make of this information what you will.)

We return to the movie. The cabbie gets sick, thanks to some very unsympathetic rich sons a’ britches. We hear sniffs. The family has to sell BB. They can’t afford to keep him with their papa sick. We hear muffled weeping. BB gets sold to a miller. (What is a miller? The children learn from this movie that miller is an old English word for “evil horse torturer”.)

Finally, Black Beauty, now a bag of bones and sores, gets saved by the grown-up stable boy from his first family. All is good. He lives the last years of his life in happiness. Black Beauty eventually dies, and as he dies, we see him envisioning a field where his mother, the little pony, the goose and dog, and Ginger—sweet Ginger!—are all waiting for him. What a glorious montage with which to end the movie.

But we cannot enjoy it, because both girls at this point have broken down into full-throated sobs. Impera curls in on herself, crying, and Trixie is clenching the Consort’s side, wailing into his ribs, “I KNEW we should have rented a Snoopy video! Nobody ever dies in a Snoopy video!”

After we calm them down and put them to bed, the Consort turns to me and says, “It was bad luck they only had my second choice at the video store. I had wanted to rent Old Yeller, but it was out.”